The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Target audience: young adult
Keywords: family, obligation, homosexuality, “de-gaying” camp, summer
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Other RBR reviews by this author: My Life After Now
Summary: Lexi is primed and ready to focus on controlling her sexuality for the better of her family. She arrives at New Horizons ready to make this work. Even meeting the beautiful and smart Carolyn doesn’t deter her at first. But when the methods of the camp start to unveil herself, she starts to believe they have no idea what they are doing despite their shiny track record. Who will she be after the summer is over?
Where Verdi’s debut, My Life After Now, felt cumbersome, her latest was focused, more streamlined in subject matter — making it one of those books I rarely wanted to put down. Sentencing your character to a summer at a “de-gaying” camp is certainly a form of cruel and unnecessary punishment and it came as a surprise that Lexi, a teenager from a small town in South Carolina whose dad has recently passed away, was so open to it. She’s not kicking and screaming and her mom isn’t some scary villain. She believes she’s doing right by her child because of the uber-religious and small-minded town they came from.
Shockingly enough, I found Lexi’s attitude admirable. She was so focused on keeping her tiny family together (her mom was suffering a ton since the death of her husband), making life as “simple” as possible that she was prepared to give “de-gaying” her best shot.
She might not like the rules (having to forgo her wardrobe for a pink uniform, lights out super early) but she sure as hell was going to follow them. A high point of The Summer I Wasn’t Me was the cast of characters that Verdi assembled to be in Lexi’s group — shy and determined David, the gorgeous and dreamy Carolyn, and comic relief and rebel Matthew. As they experience intense therapy and role playing sessions together, this group, despite their backgrounds and hopes for “recovery,” need each other. New Horizons is not a place you can get through on your own, and I really enjoyed watching their friendships develop, especially as the mission of the camp grew more questionable.
While Matthew is suspicious of New Horizons from the get-go, it takes Lexi a little while to realize things might not be as they seem. But she is understandably torn. Her mom has paid just about $10K for her to attend this camp, and change — be the best hetero woman she can be — and Lexi is positive that her ability to stay straight will right the wrongs of her mom’s depression and make their family whole again. How can she choose between family and being true to who she is? Isn’t that selfish of her? (It’s even strange as a reader because you are rooting for her to get what she wants… even if it’s against nature.) I was impressed with Lexi’s self-control from the beginning, especially after she realized she was attracted to Carolyn but I also wasn’t surprised her focus wavered after being objectified to the camp’s horrific methods.
With her feelings for Carolyn growing stronger and her suspicions that New Horizons isn’t exactly as advertised in their promo material, Lexi is faced with even more complex emotions and decisions to make. Here’s the thing: I was riveted and already horrified about the subject matter in The Summer I Wasn’t Me up until this point and when a few massive reveals were made, I could not wait to see how they would be handled. This novel may have started out as a simple story — a girl willing to sacrifice herself for good of her family — but as you get deeper into the story, the complex situations and emotions were not given a chance to dig as deeper as I would have liked. The momentum was on par for so long, and, unfortunately, just dropped off at the end — causing the intensity to poof into thin air.
A lot of times I campaign for “a little more” at the end of books because I’m selfish and don’t want my time to be up with these characters but in this instance, to create such a heavy situation that deserved attention and development and not fully execute it? It was the difference between a good read and a fantastic one. I like Verdi’s writing (The Great Gatsby references in this were a highlight) and I was glad to see a lot of growth between her first book and her second but I’ll be curious for the time she conquers a story that is driven more by well-developed characters and earned emotions rather than by a situation.
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P.S. One book I truly loved that deals with this subject was The Miseducation of Cameron Post. SO SO good.
Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperTeen
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: secret relationships, online communities, friendship
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)
Summary: Tabitha has been pretty lonely since her friends ditched her, citing her looks and interest in boys as reasons she has “changed”. Now, she has Elise and (secretly) Joe, a popular hockey player who has a serious girlfriend by day but tells Tabitha all his secrets at night. One day she stumbles on an online community called “Life By Committee.” It’s a safe place where she can divulge her most buried secrets and through “assignments” take control of her life. At first, Tabitha is inspired by this group, their drive, and feels empowered but when the assignments start to affect more of her world, she’s not sure what to think or how to get out.
Perfectly imperfect is how I like my book characters and Corey Ann Haydu delivers with Tab in Life By Committee. Not only is Tab a fan of Muppet music, a book lover to the extreme, and a totally normal teenager who helps her parents out with their cozy coffee shop in Maine, but, like any of us, she can’t help what she thinks, she doesn’t always make the wisest decisions, and she’s just trying to figure it all out.
Figuring it out includes a laundry list of things, by the way. Like why exactly her best friends turned totally petty and judgmental on her when she started getting into makeup and boys. (This doesn’t mean she stopped being a nerd.) Or why she can’t control her feelings for Joe, who makes her swoon every night with their online chats but still has a girlfriend. Or if her dad (Paul) can get it together and stop smoking up before her new sibling arrives?
As you can probably guess, Life By Committee pops up exactly when Tab feels like she has nowhere to turn. A small community of online “friends” she can admit her deepest and darkest secrets too? Who give her the courage and the extra push to move forward with what scares her the most? I mean, what can go wrong? Cue the foreboding music, friends.
All I could think of was Dawson during Season 1 of Dawson’s Creek as I got deeper and deeper into the book, and Tab got sucked further into LBC. (“My palms are sweating.” Except he was talking about Joey, and I was just freaking out about how this initial safe place turned wrong so fast.) To be a part of LBC, you divulge a secret and then are given an assignment by the LBC leader, Zed. In order to keep your secret a secret, you must complete the assignment or else.
At first, like Tab, I saw that assignments as something that would help another member seize the moment. But as the stakes were raised higher and higher, it was obvious the assignments would be affecting more than the LBC member but friends, family, reputations, and more. See? Scary stuff. I was internally freaking out about Tab and how she would exit the group without ruining absolutely everything, and stranded in a worse place than she started.
Even now, I feel incredibly anxious just thinking about it.
Life By Committee made me think a a lot about how we relate to others, and if we just see what we want to see. How could I not with the superficial reasons Tab’s friends had for dropping her? Or even how Tab felt for Joe. I wanted so badly to believe in Joe and think he was being real with her, that they had a future together. How secrets between friends and family members create such detachment that bridging it feels like climbing Everest. Or how loneliness and disconnect cause us to latch on to people and places, which provide no true help at all.
I was nervous to read LBC because Haydu’s OCD Love Story is one of the finest, most authentic debuts I’ve ever read. And I love that she created something so separate from her first book because the plotting and the characters are just as memorable but for different reasons. One thing she does continue to celebrate: the shades of gray that makes us human. We are not just ONE thing or ONE kind of way. Our thoughts, our actions, our feelings are constant changing, and we are not always going to do the right thing. Like someone asks in the book: “what if change were a comfort?” What if we weren’t so scared of it?
Even though it was very early into 2014 when I read LBC, the fact that it was so impossible to put down, the premise was so well-executed, and I related so much to Tab already secured it in my list of memorable years of the year. The writing is so fast-paced and at times so quote-worthy, I absolutely can’t wait to get a hard copy even if it means being a nervous wreck all over again reliving some of the most intense scenes I’ve encountered in YA.
So what am I saying? Haydu has officially made my auto-buy list. Also: read this.
Extra kudos: I love when a book cover fits the story absolutely so well. This is one of those circumstances.
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Hello! How are you guys doing? Spring has finally arrived in New York, and I’m hoping to spend this Saturday in the sunshine! Yay! Hope you all are doing the same! I have lots of books to talk about today since it’s been so long since I posted a SHELVE IT. It’s bad. But I swear — all the books are good even if my wallet is hurting a little bit. I hope you enjoy the video!
In the video:
There Will Come a Time by Carrie Arcos — out April 15
The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando — out April 22 (why did I think this was May?!)
The Promise by Robyn Carr — out June 22 (not July)
The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz
Caminar by Skila Brown
Never Ending by Martyn Brown
The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar (Thanks Ginger!)
Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready
Going Over by Beth Kephart
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
Noggin by John Corey Whaley
A few more books in the mail…
This is the Way by Gavin Corbett — a big kid book!
The Drowning by Rachel Ward — a YA thriller — out April 29 from Scholastic/Chicken House
Used bookstore finds (these were all a dollar each!):
Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty
On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves
Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews
On the blog this week:
Magan RETURNS with a vlog review of the highly anticipated Open Road Summer
Summer Spring I Found You by Jolene Perry — high school senior with a secret + an army vet in need of a life plan
Why we need to pay attention to the old books on our bookshelves
The Here and Now by Ann Brashares — reverse dystopian about saving the world and falling in love
Enjoy your weekend! Buy books!!! Read read read! Tell us what you are loving right now!
And big thanks for stopping by as always!
Howdy, y’all! Man it feels so incredibly wonderful to type these words. It feels so good to be here talking books. And yes, quite literally below, I talk books in my vlog. I’m really wanting to mix things up a bit and as I’m just on an altogether different schedule with a newborn, vlogs seem like the best solution for me right now. My hope is that it’s a) not boring for you and b) fun to watch. I really want your feedback about what you think so if you’ve got some, leave it below in the comments. Okay? Alright, let’s get started!
Highlights of Open Road Summer by Emery Lord:
- Incredible friendships — something I want to see much, much more of in the books I read. I get kind of bogged down by the drama sometimes. Reagan and Dee are friendship gurus.
- Mucho, mucho hotness in the form of Matt Finch. He’ll make you swoon. And laugh. And want to know him in real life.
- A girl who is incredibly relatable because she’s made some stupid mistakes. Who hasn’t done something they regret? * cue the crickets*
- ORS made me feel just about every emotion and made me miss my BFF, Estelle, somethin’ fierce.
A few quotes, as promised:
“He’s kind of beautiful, in an understated, comfortable-looking-way — the kind of guy who doesn’t mind seeing a rom-com with you and gives you his hoodie when you’re cold.”
“We’re saying a lot within the silence: We can’t and I know and But I want to and Me too. The effort of restraint burns in my chest — a physical ache from holding back.”
“Laughter feels like our flotation device — it won’t pull us out of the storm, but it might carry us through, if we can just hang on.”
“If we could capture feelings like we capture pictures, none of us would ever leave our rooms. It would be so tempting to inhabit the good moments over and over again. But I don’t want to be the kind of person who lives backwardly, who memorializes moments before she’s finished living in them.”
And a shameless photo to introduce you, officially, to my daughter Everett:
I spend a lot, lot, lot of time holding this little lady. How could I NOT? Sometimes when I’m really craving some reading time, I rock her and read my book aloud to her. She did, in fact, hear a good chunk of Open Road Summer. I hereby vow to turn this girl into a book-lover. Or try my darnedest.
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The Summer I Found You by Jolene Perry ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 1, 2014
Publisher: Albert Whitman Teen
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: army veteran, diabetes, break ups, friendship
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Summary: Kate’s longtime boyfriend has broken up with her out of nowhere and her big secret continues to wreak havoc on her life because she can’t get it under control. When Kate meets Aidan, an army vet who lost his arm in Afghanistan, she can’t control her urge to say whatever pops in her head and she feels like they have something in common, and could help each other. While Aidan is unsure of his next steps, he’s surprisingly taken with Kate and welcomes her friendship, especially when he can’t face the tasks he should be focusing on.
I’m going to be upfront and tell you that despite the title (and beautiful cover) this book does not take place during the summer or have a scene that takes places at a beach. I’m not sure whether to call it a marketing gimmick or just a glaring error but without the ocean or a tale of summer loving, Jolene Perry’s book is really addicting, subtly sexy, and filled with two interesting characters.
Told in a dual POV style, we quickly learn that Kate has been diagnosed with diabetes and unless she can keep it under control, the consequences could be fatal. Despite the many warnings from doctors and her parents, this senior in high school continues to ignore the problem. This was just a personal annoyance but because of Kate’s inability to grasp her condition and desire to keep it under wraps from just about everyone, she felt a bit immature to me. I’m not saying this wasn’t a realistic portrayal. I believe it was but I couldn’t imagine being someone who had no after school commitments and still couldn’t find the time to understand her diagnosis. (Stacey McGill fell into some bad habits like this in the Baby-Sitters Club series too.)
In addition to Kate dealing with all of her emotions surrounding diabetes, her longtime boyfriend drops a bomb and breaks up with her out of nowhere. She’s totally heartbroken, even though she knew moving on to college soon would have probably resulted in a breakup anyway but still. I didn’t blame her for being crushed. As a result, her best friend, Jenn, reintroduces Kate to her cousin, Aidan. He’s recently returned from the war where he was severely injured. Now he’s living with no plans for the future, with one arm instead of two, and he’s hiding out in his aunt and uncle’s house.
Aidan’s struggles with life after war felt so real. He’s dealing with nightmares, a list of things he wants to accomplish, and also the stares of people who notice his missing arm and the silence from others who aren’t sure how to breach the subject. So it was actually pretty helpful that Kate would blurt out just about anything in his presence because I think Aidan just needed to be real with someone in order to anchor him to his life.
I liked how Kate and Aidan’s stories mirrored each other (even when it was a little too much) because you got the feeling they understood and could help each other eventually. Not too mention, Aidan thought she was cute and Kate thought Aidan was hot plus Kate kept doing this “omg I really said that, didn’t I” thing that I totally do when I’m flustered and blushing over boys too. But as much as he is confiding in her, she’s still holding back… and, as a reader, you just wonder when that’s going to blow up and change the course of the story.
This book is about a lot more than two lost people coming together… it’s about finding the strength in yourself to make appropriate and necessary changes in your life. To stop avoiding the hard stuff. Perry also does a great job of slipping in family issues and solid friendships; for such a compact book, I had a great grasp on Aidan and Kate’s separate lives and each subplot was given an appropriate amount of attention and detail. I was so invested I actually wouldn’t have minded if the story was a little longer, and certain situations were explored more deeply.
Even so, I was totally smitten.
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